Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Another World by Patricia Mainardi

book cover
Another World
by Patricia Mainardi

ISBN-13: 9780300219067
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press
Released: March 14, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Taking its title from the 1844 visionary graphic novel by J. J. Grandville, this groundbreaking book explores the invention of print media—including comics, caricature, the illustrated press, illustrated books, and popular prints—tracing their development as well as the aesthetic, political, technological, and cultural issues that shaped them.

The explosion of imagery from the late 18th century to the beginning of the 20th exceeded the print production from all previous centuries combined, spurred the growth of the international art market, and encouraged the cross-fertilization of media, subjects, and styles. Patricia Mainardi examines scores of imaginative and innovative prints, focusing on highly experimental moments of discovery, when artists and publishers tested the limits of each new medium, creating visual languages that extend to the comics and graphic novels of today.

Another World unearths a wealth of visual material, revealing a history of how our image-saturated world came into being, and situating the study of print culture firmly within the context of art history

My Review:
Another World looked at developments in printing technology in the 1800s (like lithography) and how this promoted the development and popularity of caricature, illustrated magazines, comics, illustrated books, and popular prints. The author mostly talked about developments in France and England.

The author looked at the early experiments in these forms, like how the format and graphic language of comics developed as various authors/illustrators tried new things. He also talked about the first people to make illustrated magazines, comics, etc., and the challenges they faced. He talked about who bought these prints, magazines, etc., and what people thought about them at the time.

There were many pictures of these early caricatures and prints and of pages from the illustrated magazines, books, and comics. The author interpreted these pictures, which was nice since the political statements or cultural context would often have been lost on me. I found the information to be very interesting and easy to understand (though it's academic in tone). I'd highly recommend this book to those interested in illustrated prints and printing in the 1800s.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker

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City of Light, City of Poison
by Holly Tucker

ISBN-13: 9780393239782
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Released: March 21, 2017

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Appointed to conquer the “crime capital of the world,” the first police chief of Paris faces an epidemic of murder in the late 1600s. Assigned by Louis XIV, Nicolas de La Reynie begins by clearing the streets of filth and installing lanterns throughout Paris, turning it into the City of Light.

La Reynie unearths a tightly knit cabal of poisoners, witches, and renegade priests. As he exposes their unholy work, he soon learns that no one is safe from black magic—not even the Sun King. Nobles settle scores by employing witches to craft poisons and by hiring priests to perform dark rituals in Paris’s most illustrious churches and cathedrals.

From secret courtrooms to torture chambers, City of Light, City of Poison is a gripping true-crime tale of deception and murder based on thousands of pages of court transcripts and La Reynie’s compulsive note-taking, as well as on letters and diaries.

My Review:
City of Light, City of Poison is a true crime book about a rash of poisonings that occurred in Paris in the 1670s. The book started by describing how violent Paris could be and how the first police chief of Paris cleaned up and lighted the city along with other efforts to reduce crime. Then a good bit of the book was about the king's various mistresses and the political maneuvering of certain people who played a role in the later trials.

The author used information in the interrogation transcripts to also describe the activities of various main players in the poisoning scandals--the women supplying the poisons and the high-class women who bought their poisons, love potions, or spells. She described the questioning of these people in detail, including grisly details about their torture. Finally, even the king's mistresses were being accused of using the spells. The king didn't want these accusations getting out, so all records of the affair were destroyed--or so he thought. We're told how these records survived so that the book could even be written.

I had thought the book would be more about how the early police conducted investigations, but apparently that involved arresting suspects, putting them in unpleasant prison cells, and eventually questioning them. They did have some crude tests to identify any potential poisons that were found, but autopsy was pretty limited in its usefulness in terms of identifying death by poison. I could have lived without learning the graphic details about the torture involved. Other than that, though, it was written in an interesting way and I'd recommend the book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Container Gardens by Southern Living Magazine

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Container Gardens
by The Editors of Southern Living Magazine

ISBN-13: 978-0848745813
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Oxmoor House
Released: March 7, 2017

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description from Cover:
Over 200 Fresh Ideas for Indoor and Outdoor Inspired Plantings. Lack of space? Lack of time? No gardening experience? Need inspiration? Is it the doldrums of winter? No matter the issue, Southern Living magazine has the answer to make sure everyone has a beautiful garden year-round with the brand's newest book on container gardening. Container Gardening is a smart and sensible guide that covers the basics for the beginner as well as inspirational ideas for the experienced gardener. There are step-by-step techniques and tips on planting and care for indoor and outdoor container gardens.

My Review:
Container Gardens discussed indoor and outdoor container gardening, though the focus was mainly on outdoors. It's written for people in the South, zones 6-10, though much of the advice would be relevant anywhere. The book covered how to select containers, using potting soil, and choosing and arranging the plants. There were many pictures showing various arrangements along with the information about which plants were used. This would be a great book if you want advice or ideas on how to arrange the plants and the containers to best effect.

For outdoors, they talked about hanging pots, window boxes, on porches and such, on pedestals, on walls, and using a trellis. They talked about annual and perennial plants (including bulbs), small woody plants, and (briefly) succulents. For indoors, they mainly told you what plants might do well indoors and how to arrange these plants to look pretty. They very briefly talked about terrariums, air plants, and topiaries. Indoor ideas took up 32 pages, edible plants took up 42 pages (mainly listing information you'd find on a seed package), and outdoor plants took up 107 pages.

The book made container gardening sound like a breeze, but I already know it isn't that easy. I was disappointed that I didn't glean much to help with the problems I've had with growing perennial herbs in containers. Part of the problem is that I'm aiming for the long-term and this book focused on arrangements intended only for a season (like Fall) or, at most, Spring to Fall.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The History of Newgate Prison by Caroline Jowett

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The History of Newgate Prison
by Caroline Jowett

ISBN-13: 9781473876408
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Released: Feb. 28, 2017

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from NetGalley:
As the place where prisoners, male and female, awaited trial, execution or transportation, Newgate was Britains most feared gaol for over 700 years. It probably best known today from the novels of Charles Dickens including Barnaby Rudge and Great Expectations.

But there is much is more to Newgate than nineteenth-century notoriety. In the seventeenth century it saw the exploits of legendary escaper and thief Jack Sheppard. Author Daniel Defoe who was imprisoned there for seditious libel, playwright Ben Jonson for murder, the Captain Kidd for piracy were among its most famous inmates.

This book takes you from the gaols twelfth-century beginnings to its final closure in 1904 and looks at daily life, developments in the treatment of prisoners from the use of torture to penal reform as well as major events in its history.

My Review:
The History of Newgate Prison covers the history of Newgate from its initial building to its closure. The author broke the history down into chunks of time: 1188-1499, 1500-1699, 1700-1769, 1770-1779, and 1800-1902.

She described how Newgate was run (administrative structure, fees for provisions and such, etc.), what life was like for the inmates, what crimes would result in a stay at Newgate, the punishments for those crimes, and how all of these things changed over the years. She described the attempted and accepted reforms to the system (including some changes to the legal system) as well as some famous or typical cases from each period.

I found the book to be a very interesting and informative without getting dry or academic in tone. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in learning more about the goal/prison system in England during this time period.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor by Gregory S. Aldrete

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Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor
by Gregory S. Aldrete

ISBN-13: 9781421408194
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Released: March 1, 2013

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Alexander the Great led one of the most successful armies in history and conquered nearly the entirety of the known world while wearing armor made of cloth.

An extensive multiyear project in experimental archaeology, this pioneering study presents a thorough investigation of the linothorax, linen armor worn by the Greeks, Macedonians, and other ancient Mediterranean warriors. Because the linothorax was made of cloth, no examples of it have survived. As a result, even though there are dozens of references to the linothorax in ancient literature and nearly a thousand images of it in ancient art, this linen armor remains relatively ignored and misunderstood by scholars.

Combining traditional textual and archaeological analysis with hands-on reconstruction and experimentation, the authors unravel the mysteries surrounding the linothorax. They have collected and examined all of the literary, visual, historical, and archaeological evidence for the armor and detail their efforts to replicate the armor using materials and techniques that are as close as possible to those employed in antiquity. By reconstructing actual examples using authentic materials, the authors were able to scientifically assess the true qualities of linen armor for the first time in 1,500 years. The tests reveal that the linothorax provided surprisingly effective protection for ancient warriors, that it had several advantages over bronze armor, and that it even shared qualities with modern-day Kevlar.

My Review:
Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor is a detailed study the authors did on linen corselets using ancient written and visual sources, and what they learned from their reconstructive archaeology efforts. The writing style was formal, yet the information was not difficult to understand or process. The authors realized that their audience was not solely academics, so they wrote in a manner accessible to everyone. They stated that they realized not all of the chapters in the book would equally interest all of their readers since this book would likely have a varied audience: academics, history buffs, reenactors, and others. I was initially interested in the reconstructive archaeology chapters, so I was surprised by how interesting I found the initial chapters.

There were a number of black and white photos and 6 color photos, mainly of ancient art showing this type of armor and of their experiments. The photos did an excellent job of showing what the text was describing. The main text was 168 pages long and used a somewhat denser, smaller-font text than "popular history" books. The next 38 pages were text description of the hundreds of images of linen body armor in ancient art that were used as the basis for this study so others who wish to can find them. The next 44 pages contained the "footnote" information. The biography and index each took 12 pages.

Chapter 1 discussed the mentions of linen armor in ancient texts and the images of Type IV/linen body armor in ancient art. It also described how flax was grown and processed in the ancient world. Chapter 2 discussed common elements seen in the visual sources and the different variations seen--things like how the shoulder straps were secured down, decorative elements, etc. Chapter 3 talked about what type of material was used to make this Type IV armor--only linen, only leather, a combination, metal inserts or scales? And if it was only linen, was it many layers of linen sewn together or many layers of linen glued together or stuffed and quilted linen?

Chapter 4 talked about their reconstructive archaeology efforts to make both sewn and laminated (glued layers of) linen armor. There was enough detail that I felt like I could do the process myself if I wished to. Chapter 5 talked about how they tested the armor, and chapter 6 gave the results (including both charts of numbers and a summary of the data in the text). They mainly tested with ancient arrows, but they also tried other weapons (swords, mace, spear, etc.). They also compared the linen results to tests on the effectiveness of bronze armor. Chapter 7 talked about the practical usability of the armor--mobility, ease of construction and repair, effectiveness of the repair, ability to withstand rain and river crossings, if it got hot when worn in full sun, the weight compared to bronze armor, etc. Chapter 8 talked about who might have made the linen for the armor and the cost in labor or money to produce a linen corselet.

It was interesting to learn how effective and usable linen body armor turned out to be. I felt that the authors gave a fair/balanced analysis of linen body armor and of the possibilities about its manufacture and use. I'd recommend this book to those who think it sounds interesting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Disobeying Hitler by Randall Hansen

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Disobeying Hitler
by Randall Hansen

ISBN-13: 9780385664639
Hardback: 480 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Released: May 20, 2014

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Anyone with even a passing interest in the Second World War knows about the plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. But the story of the great wave of resistance that arose in the year that followed--with far-reaching consequences--has never been told before.

Drawing on newly opened archives, acclaimed historian Randall Hansen shows that many high-ranking Nazis, and average German citizens in far greater numbers than previously recognized, reacted defiantly to the Fuhrer's by then manifest insanity. Together they spared cities from being razed, and prevented the needless obliteration of industry and infrastructure. Disobeying Hitler presents new evidence on three direct violations of orders made personally by Adolf Hitler: The refusal by the commander of Paris to destroy the city; Albert Speer's refusal to implement a scorched earth policy in Germany; and the failure to defend Hamburg against invading British forces.

Disobeying Hitler shows how the brave resistance of soldiers and civilians, under constant threat of death, was crucial for the outcome of the war. Their bravery saved countless lives and helped lay the foundations for European economic recovery--and continued peace

My Review:
Disobeying Hitler covered the fate of civilians and German troops in German-occupied territory from July 20, 1944 to May 9, 1945. From the title and description, I was expecting a focus on "human interest" stories...individual's stories and what made them disobey. Instead, much of the book was a series of "this person did this action at this place and this time" overviews of various military battles and related actions. If you're familiar with the battles of the war, this listing of military actions might help tie the other events together in your mind. However, I'm not a WWII buff. I'd have found the book more interesting if the battle movements were even more briefly summarized as they usually added little to the "disobeying Hitler" aspects of the story.

The tone of the writing was scholarly and attempted to set the record straight--based on actual evidence--on some claims of heroic disobedience by German leaders. The author pointed out what they did and didn't do, and what others (civilians) contributed to the outcome.

The first 72 (of 332) pages covered a brief summary of WWII events that lead up to Valkyrie and a description of the events of the July 20, 1944 assassination and coup attempt against Hitler. After that, we're told stories--connected by battle reports--of various cities being saved. Hitler had commanded that the cities would be essentially left in rubble as the German army died in heroic last stands. Not everyone thought this was a good idea (especially the civilians living in these cities). They risked their lives to save the civilian populations and the city itself, and this often also involved the surrender of German troops. We're also told of cities that were destroyed. The stories were often described as an overview of the action rather than going in-depth into the details, personalities, and motives. Perhaps these details do not exist in many of the cases.

I thought that the more civilian-focused view of the defeat of Germany was interesting, but the viewpoint was more distant and action-focused than I expected. It was interesting, but not as interesting as I expected it to be.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A History of Courtship by Tania ODonnell

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A History of Courtship
by Tania ODonnell

ISBN-13: 9781781593486
ebook: 176 pages
Publisher: Pen and Sword History
Released: Jan. 27, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Tania O’Donnell takes the reader on a journey from medieval Courtly Love, through to the sexual license of the Restoration, and Victorian propriety. Learn about courting, writing romantic love letters and poems, appropriate gifts, proposing, and more. In the 14th century young men tried to impress the ladies with their footwear, donning shoes with pointed toes so long that they had to be secured with whalebone—presumably because size mattered! The author also recounts tales of classic romantic mistakes and scandals.

My Review:
A History of Courtship is a survey of courtship practices--mainly from the 1300s to the 1800s in England. The author described how couples met, beauty and clothing fads, acceptable gifts, improper behavior, the role of chaperons, love poems and letters, and areas of conflict after marriage. She also looked at the differences in practices between the rich and the poor. She described some scandals and other unusual stories to illustrate various behaviors. The material came from sources like diaries, guides on things like etiquette or letter writing, and preserved love poems and letters.

Keep in mind that this book isn't meant to be an exhaustive source on courtship, and the subtitle is a bit misleading. It's not about seduction techniques, and she didn't really cover 800 years. Most of the information was from the 1500s to late 1800s. Overall, I'd recommend this interesting and entertaining book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.